COVAX vaccines reach more than 100 countries, despite supply snags

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  • St Lucia became 100th country to receive COVID-19 vaccines
  • 38 mln doses delivered in six weeks - GAVI/WHO statement
  • Despite supply issues, 2 billion doses to be provided in 2021

GENEVA, April 8 (Reuters) - The COVAX vaccine facility has delivered nearly 38.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 102 countries and economies across six continents, six weeks after it began to roll out supplies, according to a statement on Thursday.

The programme offers a lifeline to low-income countries in particular, allowing them to inoculate health workers and others at high risk, even if their governments have not managed to secure vaccines from the manufacturers.

But there have been some delays, the GAVI vaccine alliance and World Health Organization said in a statement.

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Reduced availability delayed some deliveries in March and April, and much of the output of the Serum Institute of India, which makes the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine, is being kept in India, where daily infections surpassed 100,000 for the first time on Monday. read more

The Anglo-Swedish vaccine has been plagued by safety concerns, with Europe's regulator saying on Wednesday it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients, although it still believes that its benefits outweighed the risks.

"Decisions on the COVAX portfolio that relate to safety as well as recommendations and guidance for use of vaccine products are based on WHO guidance. WHO guidance on use of the AZ vaccine remains unchanged," a GAVI spokesperson said on Thursday.

The Caribbean island of St. Lucia became the 100th country to receive vaccines through COVAX. Iran, also battling a record rate of infection, is another recent recipient.

The 102 countries reached so far include 61 benefiting from donor financing.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called it a "travesty" that some countries still did not have enough vaccines to begin inoculating health workers and the most vulnerable. read more

"COVAX may be on track to deliver to all participating economies in the first half of the year, yet we still face a daunting challenge as we seek to end the acute stage of the pandemic," GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said in the statement.

COVAX still expects to deliver at least 2 billion doses this year, and to diversify the offering beyond the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer/BioNTech shots it is currently supplying.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay

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